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Great Lakes Article:

Feds rule lynx won't be added to endangered list
By Buddy Smith
The Ravalli Republic

The Canada lynx remains threatened, but the forest cat isn't endangered, the federal government has concluded.

Late last month, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined the seldom-seen species, which prefers northern forests such as those in western Montana and elsewhere, including Idaho, the Great Lakes area and the Pacific Northwest, does not warrant the upgraded federal protection.

The species was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in March 2000, and the federal government was under court order to re-evaluate lynx status.

"The judge told us basically to reconsider our findings," said Lori Nordstrom with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Helena.

Lynx are also the subject of a separate effort to revise more than 20 federal land-use plans, including the Bitterroot National Forest's, to provide protections for the species.

Based on known threats to lynx and their forest habitat, the Fish and Wildlife Service determined that the cat isn't endangered because there is no evidence to show that the contiguous United States population is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant part of its range, the agency said.

While studies found areas of concern where officials thought lynx might no longer naturally occur, such as New York and Colorado, according to Nordstrom, overall the species is not in danger of becoming extinct.

"We know that in Washington, Montana, Maine and Minnesota there are reproducing populations and that those areas historically have always been the core range of the lynx," Nordstrom said. "And in no way were they likely to become extinct."

"Extinct means gone," she said.

But the national conservation group Defenders of Wildlife and other organizations had filed suit, saying the 2000 listing of the lynx as threatened, rather than endangered, was "arbitrary and capricious," according to the Fish and Wildlife Service.

The groups challenged the agency's finding regarding threats to the species, identification of a single distinct population segment (a portion of a species' or subspecies' population or range) and failure to designate critical habitat for the species, the Fish and Wildlife Service said.

A little bigger than a bobcat, the tufted-eared, big-pawed carnivore can have a home range as vast as 30 to 50 square miles, Nordstrom said.

She said lynx numbers are naturally lower than some other species and are difficult to determine. Biologists have surveyed their snow tracks in the southern Bitterroot and other areas.

Lynx dwell in moist, northern forests and high-elevation habitat occupied by the species' primary food source, the snowshoe hare. Its range includes Montana, New Hampshire, Oregon, Utah, Wisconsin and Wyoming, mostly on federal lands.

Meanwhile, a primary reason for listing the lynx as threatened three years ago was a lack of guidance for conserving the species in federal land-use plans, according to Nordstrom. Federal agencies have since written a conservation agreement for lynx and are currently operating under those guidelines, Nordstrom said.

The U.S. Forest Service and the BLM also intend to amend or revise land-use plans to include long-term lynx protections. A few years ago, Hamilton and other Montana towns hosted meetings on the proposed revisions. A draft environmental impact statement is due out this summer, officials have said.

"I think they're on the verge of issuing a draft EIS," Nordstrom said.

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